Previous entry

Glenys’s Travel Diary

Monday, 30 Apr 2007

Location: United Arab Emirates

MapMelbourne Trip

A brief summary of my trip to Melbourne as one of six chaperones of a group of Emirati women. It was a day flight, direct to Melbourne and so much easier than the usual 16 hours with stopovers. We arrived without incident, the abayas and shaylas came off before landing and we headed for the vodophone counter to ensure we all had communication with families. We were a large group and so it took an hour to get all the SIM cards registered and paid for. Some of the highlights of our two weeks there:

•Pushing past the tables and staff on Lygon St, the waiters and owners accosting us as we passed by. One owner was adamant that his food was halal and that we should inspect the standard of his restaurant. He was reluctant to let us past and very aggressive. We finally split into two groups, one heading for a Nepali restaurant and the other Italian. I felt how it was to be part of a large minority group in a Western country.

•Stories over dinner. Personal experiences of these women. Can you imagine the shock of finding out that your father had a second wife ( of 15 years) and also a son, your brother. Despite polygamy being part of the culture it seems it is unacceptable to many women.

•Walking: we walked every day from our apartments to various points around the city. It was such a treat after the sand and traffic of Dubai. The air smelt fresh and the sky clear. These women rarely walk in the UAE and when they do they tend to ‘glide’ along slowly in their abayas making way for no one. We explained that crossing the road here was an expectation to hurry. It only took one incident of a driver beeping and coming very close to us that the speed of walking increased. By day 3 K had a sore leg and decided she couldn’t walk. She appeared at the door of her apartment supported by another student. She collapsed in a heap when she saw me, making a clear point that walking was out. I explained the only cure was more walking which to her credit she did and by midday we heard no more about the leg pain.

•Dinners: Eyes no longer veiled but watchful of the male passersby and the comments typical of a group of young women of any nationality.

•Lunches: nothing green please! Every meal was full of wonderful fresh fruit and veges, café style but this wasn’t popular with our young women. “We don’t eat fruit and veges; bring us pizza or pasta, briyani or bread and humus please!”. Eventually rice and bread was requested and this disappeared instantly.

•Parties in the apartments: Evenings in. No night clubbing for this lot! But… by the end of week two Z appeared at reception in her PJs to buy some sweets, coke and chips (staple diet). Unbelievable to see a woman who is usually covered looking like this in a public area. They really do adapt.

•Walking in the rain: we set off for the supermarket to buy bread for breakfast. It rained and we ambled along, all soaked but no complaints. We studied the types of bread, all unfamiliar to women who are very accustomed to shopping for clothing but not bread – the whitest of white was usually the favourite and I was asked if ‘fibre’ was healthy as I was considered to be the health advisor on this trip! It seemed that would suffice for the health boost.

•Squeezing into trams …eeek they’re all touching us as we stand shoulder to shoulder at rush hour in the trams, men and women all in together.

•Two weeks later abayas and shaylas came out of the suitcases just before touch down at Dubai airport. Home again.